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Diversity is Good Business

Mary Collins Headshot 8-2016Diversity is Good Business

That is one of the inescapable conclusions in the just-released sixth annual UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report. This continuing report, whose more than 20 sponsors since its inception include well-known industry names such as BET Networks, El Rey Network, OWN, Starz Entertainment, and The Walt Disney Company, is intended to quantify “relationships between diversity and the bottom line in the Hollywood entertainment industry.” To do so, the study’s authors reviewed 200 top theatrical film releases from 2017 along with 1,316 broadcast, cable, and digital platform releases from the 2016 to 2017 season. Their objective was to measure the presence of women and people of color in front of and behind the camera. They also looked to determine correlations between these measures and some common measures of success and/or engagement.

Before I go into the report’s conclusions, I would like to set the scene. The United States’ population and society have changed significantly since Hollywood became the capital of the entertainment industry. In the early 1900s, women were protesting for the right to vote. As late as 1960, 85 percent of the U.S. population was white. Today, women, representing just over half of the population, hold a record number of elected offices and minority groups make up about 40 percent of U.S. residents.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally got the message last June when they invited 928 new members to join the group. The result was what Vox calls “potentially its most diverse class yet.”

And then, for the first time, during the 2019 Oscars, women and people of color picked up gold statues in a number of significant categories. Broadcast ratings for the awards ceremony also increased from those in 2018.

The progress showcased at this year’s Oscars reflects the larger trends presented in this year’s UCLA report. The report draws from 2016-2017 season TV and movie data. Darnell Hunt, co-lead author and dean of the UCLA College Division of Social Sciences, says that the number of women in key roles nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017.

Unfortunately, women’s representation still lags behind. Even with the increase, there were just 21 women directors among the 167 English-language films from 2017’s top 200, or just 12.6 percent of the total. More disconcerting is that an early analysis of 2018’s top movies indicates the increase mentioned above was just a one-year blip.

On the TV side, while the report shows women were proportionately represented in broadcast, cable, and digital scripted leading roles, they were underrepresented in other areas. In front of the camera for reality television, women were outnumbered two-to-one. Again, when it came to key behind-the-scenes roles, called “Creator” in the UCLA report, women were underrepresented two-to-one in all areas – broadcast, cable, and digital.

The Bottom Line

But, why care whether casts and crews are diverse? The answer is measurable. Consider just a few of the statistics from the UCLA report:

  • For viewers 18-49, media household ratings of cable scripted shows peaked when casts were from 11 percent to 20 percent minority.
  • For white households, media ratings were at their highest in both the 11 to 20 percent minority and the 31 percent to 40 percent minority classifications.
  • Social media engagement for cable scripted shows was highest for those with majority-minority casts.

Also, keep in mind, as the report lays out, the “combined buying power of people of color reached $3.9 trillion in 2017, and these growing, diverse audience segments watched more television on a per capita basis than their white counterparts.”

The Good News

The UCLA report concludes with the observation that television seems to be leading the way when it comes to diversity. It points to “a profound confluence of technological and demographic change” resulting in an environment “ripe for altering business as usual in the television sector.”

Reminding readers that television has expanded beyond time-constrained viewing on a single-purpose electronic device to on demand viewing on “virtually any device with a screen,” the survey authors cite an ever-growing appetite for content. Hunt says, “It’s clear the increased number of original programs alone has helped grow the share of the pie for minorities and women.”

MFM Focuses on Content Delivery and Revenue

Late last year, the MFM Board voted to rename the Association’s Cable Committee to recognize that the group no longer consisted of companies constrained by a wireline content delivery option. The newly renamed Networks, Programming, and Streaming (NPS) Committee has a full slate of sessions scheduled for Media Finance Focus 2019, the annual conference for MFM and its BCCA subsidiary. Among the topics on the agenda are a look at how technology is affecting sports programming and an industry roundtable. I invite you to join us in New Orleans, May 20-22, to be part of the conversation.

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at mary.collins@mediafinance.org and via the association’s LinkedInTwitter or Facebook sites.

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